Obama signs off on new tourism measures
By: Ian Scheuring
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Local officials are applauding an Executive Order signed by President Barack Obama on Thursday, saying it contains several new measures that will help increase travel and tourism to Hawaii.
The Executive Order establishing "Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness" stipulates that non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil will increase by 40% in 2012 while also ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of their being received. A new website with information and statistics on visa processes will be designed to assist travelers and the tourism industry.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Honolulu is the fifth busiest U.S. point-of-entry, with 2.4 million international visitors arriving in the state each year. Arrivals from China are expected to reach 748,779 in 2012, more than 28% more than 2011.
Chinese visitors spend around $380 per person per day while in Hawaii, more than any other visitor market.
The Executive Order also requests that the Department of Homeland Security consider Taiwan for the Visa Waiver Program, where participating nationals can travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Officials say that more than 60% of international tourists do not require a U.S. visa, citing the program.
After Korea was included in the Department of Homeland Security's Visa Waiver Program, visitor arrivals from the region increased by 35%. Similar growth is expected from Taiwan, should they also be included in the program.
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie says that he has advocated changes in the visa processing system in the past, and believes the executive order will help make international travel in the United States more accessible.
"The President's announcement today is a wonderful New Year's gift to the people of Hawaii," Governor Abercrombie said. "President Obama clearly understands that improving the visa and foreign visitor processing and travel promotion will spur economic growth. We look forward to experiencing that growth here in Hawaii."
Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz believes discussions during last November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit helped lead to some of the changes revealed Thursday.
"These are precisely the kinds of actions that we pushed for during APEC in November," Schatz said. "Alleviating wait times will be tremendously helpful as we attempt to build a stronger China-Hawai`i tourism relationship. A visa waiver program in Taiwan is great news and we can anticipate increased visitors to Hawai`i and economic opportunities in the region."
Those wishing to view the President's Executive Order establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness can do so at the following link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/19/executive-order-establishing-visa-and-foreign-visitor-processing-goals-a.
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